Obama asks Congress for $1.8 billion to counter Zika ahead of mosquito season
- The Obama administration on Monday asked Congress for over $1.8 billion in emergency funding to combat the spread of Zika virus in the U.S. and abroad. The request comes on the heels of the World Health Organization declaring Zika an international public health emergency.
- Almost half of the requested funding ($828 million) would go the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to fund "readiness and response capacity" in areas with populations of mosquitoes known to transmit Zika. It would also boost laboratory testing capabilities and increased virus surveillance.
- The administration emphasized the need for speedy mitigation efforts to counter domestic transmission of the virus, especially as mosquito populations grow in the spring and summer months.
The budget request included $200 million for vaccine and diagnostic testing R&D at the National Institutes of Health. This money would accelerate research into Zika and the chikungunya virus, a related pathogen.
Another $250 million would go toward supporting health services for pregnant women in Puerto Rico. Pregnant women are considered most at risk from Zika due to the suspected link to microcephaly, or abnormally small heads, in newborns. Active transmission has been reported in Puerto Rico, which has capped Medicaid funding.
In addition to domestic priorities, the administration hopes to put $335 million toward international support through the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Zika has spread to 26 countries and territories in the Americas since the outbreak began in Brazil last March. So far, Brazil has suffered the brunt of the outbreak, with nearly 5,000 reported cases of microcephaly in newborns.
While there has been no reported cases of local transmission in the continental U.S., the CDC has confirmed 50 cases of the virus among travelers returning home.
There is no current vaccine or treatment for Zika, although many major pharma companies are either beginning vaccine development or combing through existing vaccine portfolios for crossover potential. Sanofi, which recently developed the world's first vaccine for dengue, hopes its previous vaccine experience will assist its development program.
The European Medicines Agency recently pledged to expedite the development of vaccines and convened a task force to advise companies working in that space, according to Reuters.
Elsewhere, India-based Bharat Biotech announced last week it has been working on two vaccine candidates for more than a year, and will begin animal testing soon for one candidate.
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